A Canadian Family

First Nations, French Canadians & Acadians

Mamma-mia, I’ve got an M-line!

The notion of the M-line is relatively new to genealogy so I thought I would give you a little introduction to this rapidly growing area of inquiry.


Human mtDNA migration Source: Wikimedia Commos

What is an M-line?

An M-line is your ancestry traced through your mother, but not in the traditional manner.

Traditionally, when people say they’re doing their maternal ancestry, they mean that they start from a certain woman and then follow that woman’s ancestry through her father. In other words, you would start with a Jane Doe, and then follow through her Doe parents, grandparents, great-grandparents etc.  Genealogists like me who are particularly interested in their female ancestors might also develop the wives’ families and enquire into their lives, but that enquiry is still usually organized around a surname line. I can think of three reasons why this is so:  1) We naturally identify with our own surname and those of our parents and in our society most of us carry our father or maternal grandfather’s surname.  2) Surnames tend to originate and then cluster in various regions so it’s relatively easy to build resources and become proficient in that one surname .  3) As a general rule, modern western society has focused more on the work and lives of men as opposed to women.

An M-line is different. With an M-line you begin with one of your maternal ancestors, and then follow her ancestors back through time exclusively through the female line. So, starting from a Jane Doe, you would go first to Jane Doe’s mother, and then to her mother’s mother, her mother’s mother’s mother and so on. Some people have called this the matrilineal, umbilical or uterine line but I have chosen to use Roderick’s suggested term M-lines For further discussion of this term see:

Genetics & Genealogy http://genealogy.about.com/library/authors/ucroderick1f.htm).

Why is there so much interest in M-lines?

Over the past five years many genealogists have been turning to genetic genealogy to learn more about their ancestry. Several companies now offer genetic testing that will allow you to determine information such as your ethnic group. These tests are particularly useful to determine deep ancestry. Your DNA markers will place you in what is called a haplogroup and you can then get an idea of your ancestors’ migratory routes as they left Africa.

Genealogists work with this information in another way. They have begun to form geographic, ethnic or surname groups. Members upload their DNA results into group databases and, as more and more results come online, certain genetic patterns emerge. Of course, this type of genetic genealogy is still in its infancy.

What does this have to do with M-lines?

For the purposes of tracing her lineage, a woman inherits only one specific type of DNA – mtDNA – and that mtDna comes from her mother. Therefore, a woman cannot follow her father’s lineage. She can only trace her mother’s genetic heritage back through the female line.  A man, on the other hand, is a little luckier because he can trace his lineage back through the male (YDNA) and female (mtDNA) lines (Carol-Ann will be blogging about this in the future).

What about our family’s M-lines?

Here’s an example from our own family. We had already established a paper trail for Eveline Melvina Luce that led back to Marguerite Caplan, a Metis woman (see lineage to the right in M-Lines*Luce).  Now one of Eveline’s grand-daughters has had her mtDNA tested, and the results confirm the presence of genetic markers for Amerindian ancestry. Although these tests couldn’t confirm any specifics in our family tree they do buttress the paper trail.

This information is great for our own family but it becomes even more powerful (as I explained above) when it is joined with other people’s data. For instance, Edouard Theriault’s mtDNA line which goes back to Renee Breau, is posted at the  “mtDNA Proven Results” page  at the:

Acadian Ancestral Home   http://www.acadian-home.org/frames.html

If you scroll down you’ll see that an M-Line descendant of Perrine Rau has posted her results. Since Perrine Rau is part of our founding Theriault couple, we now have information about her that we could’t get ourselves. As everyone shares their results in this group we are building a rich picture of our Acadian and Amerindian foremothers.

A final note

But, regardless of their usefulness to genetic genealogy, I’d still feel an overwhelming urge to build my ancestors’ M-Lines. I think it probably comes from the urge to celebrate the lives of the women that came before me.  As I build my ancestors’ M-lines I see my family history through a different lens. What gifts did each woman bring as she joined our bloodlines? What was the influence of a Mi’kmaq woman on our predominantly European family’s survival through those early years in the New World? How did our Lagace family’s culture change when Eveline Luce arrived from a Shippegan fishing family?

Lastly, through my M-lines I feel my family tree doesn’t just go straight back through time. the women in my M-lines connect me far outwards into the communities in which they lived.

Further Reading:

Index: Luces  | Channel Islands – QC

Further Reading:




January 2, 2009 - Posted by | . | ,


  1. Evelyn, I agree with you about the maternal line, at least you know for sure that they were the mothers. My mom had an expression “Momma’s baby, daddy’s maybe”.


    Comment by Earline | March 5, 2009 | Reply

  2. Very funny – Earline!
    And as a matter of fact with the advent of genealogy-related genetic testing I think some of us are in for some surprises!
    Have a good day,


    Comment by evelynyvonnetheriault | March 5, 2009 | Reply

  3. I just found out through my dna that eveline luce would have been my great great grandmother margrette chapado was great grandmother its come back i have 2 to 3 percent native

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by kim cooper | October 28, 2019 | Reply

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